Jack Ma to hand chairman's role to CEO Zhang next year

Jack Ma to hand chairman's role to CEO Zhang next year

Jack Ma, who founded e-commerce giant Alibaba Group and helped launch China's online retailing boom, announced Monday that he will step down as the company's chairman next September, a departure already drawing comparisons to the retirement of late Apple founder Steve Jobs.

Jack Ma, the man synonymous with Alibaba, will remain Executive Chairman until September 10, 2019, at which point current Alibaba Group CEO Daniel Zhang will take the role.

Mr. Ma's charisma and zeal for the limelight made him the ideal front man for China's emerging tech industry, observers say, sending a message to China's young and ambitious that there were opportunities beyond government work and stodgy state-owned enterprises.

"We address Jack Ma as "Teacher Ma" within the company, and we call each other "classmates", said George Huang, executive assistant to the CEO at Ant Financial.

As Alibaba grew and joined the ranks of Apple, Microsoft and Amazon as the most valuable companies on earth, Ma has made unlikely remarks about his mixed feelings towards the company he co-founded in 1999. The co-founder of China's e-commerce juggernaut plans to leave the company next year.

Mr Ma is China's third richest man, with a net worth of $36.6bn (£28.3bn), according to Forbes 2017 list.

The luxury company Kering, owner of brands including Gucci and Saint Laurent, accused Alibaba in a 2015 lawsuit of facilitating counterfeit sales.

Ma also became one of the best-known Chinese businesspeople overseas.

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His fingerprints are on some of the company's most successful moves: he was a key architect of Alibaba's "Singles Day", the November 11 event that has become the world's largest online shopping festival.

"I also want to return to education, which excites me with so much blessing because this is what I love to do", Ma writes.

The billionaire will remain as executive chairman of the company for the next 12 months to mentor his successor and ensure a "smooth and successful transition".

"I thought I would just dabble in the business for a couple of years, but it's been two decades". I plan on continuing my role as the founding partner in the Alibaba Partnership and contribute to the work of the partnership. Zhang is far more low-key than Ma, described as the Clark Kent to Ma's Superman by Duncan Clark, author of Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built.

His decision to quit the rapidly growing gaming industry followed an hour-long chat with Ma at Alibaba's headquarters in the eastern city of Hangzhou. The first year that Mr Ma took his college entrance exam, he scored only one point in his maths test.

After the meeting he said that they had both agreed that US-China relations "should be strengthened, should be more friendly and do better".

But it is still extremely rare for a founder of a big and transformative tech firm, especially one with a cult-like status like Ma, to retire so early.

Alibaba still dominates Chinese e-commerce, however, and is pouring investment into new initiatives to broaden its ecosystem and stake out position in fast-growing future arms. In 2014, he and co-founder Joe Tsai set up a charitable trust focusing on the environment and health, funded by share options they own that were about 2 per cent of Alibaba's equity at the time.

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